Little Red River Overview

One of the most popular fishing and floating streams in Arkansas, the lower Little Red River flows from the base of Greers Ferry Dam near the town of Heber Springs to eventually merge with the White River at the Hurricane Lake Wildlife Management Area just east of Searcy. The chief reason for its popularity is trout—thousands and thousands of which are stocked in the stream on a regular basis. Good scenery and convenient access also work in the river's favor.

Section Description & Characteristics
The Little Red River is generally a good year-round float. The condition of the river is dependent upon generation periods of the powerhouse at the dam. It becomes very swift and dangerous in spots when water is released, but after generation ceases, the Little Red reverts to a peaceful Ozark mountain stream with lone, gentle pools and numerous shoals. During periods of high flow, the river should be floated only by experienced boaters.

Length: From Greers Ferry Dam to Ramsey Public Access, a distance of approximately 29 miles.

Greers Ferry Dam to Ramsey Public Access: The first few miles of river below Greers Ferry Lake are strewn with boulders, making it a challenging float for canoers, but a difficult one for crafts larger than a johnboat. Beyond this stretch, there is a long pool of deep water. Farther downstream, an island hinders river travel. The usual approach is to veer left at the island, which will take floaters into one of the river's largest fishing holes. Approximately 1.5 miles downstream, a series of shoals impedes travel of large boats when water levels are low. Beyond this shoal area, canoes are the best choice for shallow areas and a series of bends.

Next is a three-mile-long deep hole, followed by a narrowing of the river into another long shoal. These shoals give way to deep pools above Pangburn, then the river's pace picks up with a series of rapids upstream of the low water bridge north of town. Beyond the rapids, the river widens as it flows through another series of shoals. The last access point, Ramsey Access, is a few miles downstream. Trout waters end a few miles beyond the Ramsey area at Arkansas 305.

Map of Little Red River, northern half
Map of Little Red River, southern half

Water conditions on the Little Red don't vary so much by season as they do by day of the week. On weekdays, when power demand is usually at its greatest, water is frequently released around mid-morning. Demand for electricity drops over the weekends, and so do water levels. When the river reading is low, expect to wade and drag boats over the shoals.

Access Points
A Corps of Engineers public ramp on the north bank, located next to the Federal Fish Hatchery, is the easiest access to the upper portion of the river. Other public access points on the middle and lower stretches of the river, maintained by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, include Barnett (Winkley Bridge), Lobo (adjacent to Lobo Landing Trout Dock), Dripping Springs, and Ramsey. Four commercial boat docks also offer launch ramps.

Most of the land bordering the river is privately-owned and is posted. Always check with landowners before attempting access to the river via private property.

The scenery is outstanding, easily good enough to offset one of those rare occasions when the fish aren't biting. As it cuts through beautiful Ozark foothills, the Little Red provides excellent year-round viewing.

The Little Red is among the real blue-ribbon trout streams of America and takes her place alongside the White as one of the best in the South. Hundreds of thousands of rainbow trout are stocked here annually, and periodic releases of brown trout have produced an excellent fishery for that species as well.

The secret to fishing the Little Red is light tackle and small lures. Ultralight spinning rigs and two- to four-pound line are popular. Most trout are taken on bait, rather than artificials, simply because more anglers use it. Whole kernel corn, redworms, nightcrawlers, waxworms, salmon eggs, and Velveeta cheese all take their share.

Favorite artificials for Little Red trout include marabou jigs, small spinners and spoons, crayfish, and minnow imitation crank-baits. But one of the most productive techniques involves a curious marriage between bait and artificials. This rig consists of a small, clear bobber rigged about four or five feet above a brown feather jig, on the barb of which is impaled a small white waxworm. The rig is cumbersome to cast, but that's acceptable since the proper fishing technique is to work the lure in as slowly as possible.

During highwater, drift fishing with the current is favored. Bait is cast upstream and allowed to bump the bottom as it drags behind the boat. On low water, still fishing deep holes, weed beds, and timber from an anchored boat are preferred. The Little Red is also one of Arkansas's most popular fly-fishing streams, and the many shoals exposed during low water periods offer ideal locations to hook a hefty trout on a variety of fly patterns.

Arkansas's trout season never closes, but many of the larger fish are taken from October through February.

Although trout get most of the publicity on the Little Red, anglers shouldn't overlook opportunities for taking other species as well. The river has healthy populations of chain pickerel, spotted and smallmouth bass, green and longear sunfish, rock bass, and bluegills.

Services Available
A network of resorts, private campgrounds, restaurants, bait shops, and guide services has been established to serve the recreating public. In addition, the nearby city of Heber Springs serves as a trade center for the surrounding area. Public camping spots are located on Greers Ferry Lake.

Additional Information
In the spring, the forks of the Little Red are floatable above Greers Ferry Lake, and the best of the lot is probably the Middle Fork. Flowing between the towns of Leslie and Shirley, the Middle Fork cuts a 30-mile path through some of the state's most rugged terrain. The river boasts a sharp fall creating a series of rapids that can be treacherous during periods of heavy rainfall. Only experienced canoeists should attempt this float when water levels are high. Another of the tributaries, the South Fork, flows for 13 miles between Scotland and Clinton, and is not a bad fishing stream.

Canoeists interested in getting on new water might also check out Big Creek, one of the Little Red's major tributaries. Several put-in points are located on county roads east of Wilburn (see a Cleburne County map for details), while the traditional take-out is an old iron bridge near the stream's confluence with the Little Red. To get to the iron bridge, go north on Arkansas 110 from Pangburn, then turn east on a county road about three-quarters of a mile beyond the Little Red River bridge. Highlights of the float include deep pools, Class I/II rapids, towering bluffs and—believe it or not—cypress trees.

Floaters will also find several interesting attractions in the area. One is the Greers Ferry Visitors Information Center, an impressive structure housing a museum, a Corps of Engineers display, and an exciting audiovisual presentation of the region's history. Two nearby trails, Mossy Bluff and Buckeye (handicapped accessible), provide lofty views and interpretive stops along the way. In addition, visitors can tour Greers Ferry Dam and the National Fish Hatchery, located just downstream from the dam.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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